The 1st Statistical Account

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(County and Synod of Ross Presybtery of Chanonory)

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness (Image taken from Raeburn painting) with background of west coast outline

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty

By the Rev. Roderick Mckenzie.

Rents, Heritors, Etc.
The valued rent is 3145L. 11s. 2d. Scots, and the real rent, including the heritor’s mains, may be estimated at 2600L. Sterling, some of which is paid in kind, such as barley and oat-meal, the rest in money. Indeed, the gentlemen are converting all their rents into money, all the customs, carriages, and services being converted some time ago, I think, at the rate of 1L. Sterling for every boll of old rent, and now only assess the tenants with as much victual as pays the clergyman’s stipend. There are 8 heritors in this parish, 5 of whom have their mansion-houses in it, and reside in them, except Colonel Graham of Dryney, who is with his regiment in America, and Mrs. McKenzie at Chatham.

Two have their family seats in the parish of Killearnan, where their property is considerable, and one, Mr. McKenzie of Pitundy, one of the sheriff-substitutes of Ross, lives on a farm belonging to Mr. Davidson of Tulloch, close by the town of Dingwall. Property has been, for several years back, rather changeable, but no proprietor has been introduced into this parish for upwards of 50 years, except Mr. Grant of Redcastle, and Sir Roderick McKenzie of Scatwell, who sold his property in this parish to the Kilcoy family; the refit of the property, to a considerable quantity of land, that was sold, being bought up by the family of Kilcoy, who is the largest proprietor, and principal heritor in this parish, except a small property purchased pf late by Colonel Graham of Dryney.

The Gaelic is the language commonly spoken here, and though there are a few who have no Gaelic, yet most of the inhabitants speak and understand both languages. All the names of the heritors places of residence in this parish are derived from the Gaelic: thus Allangrange, or, Allan-Chain, “a fertile field of corn”; Suddy, or Sui-us-fbin, “a good place to settle in”; Belmaduthy, or Bakk-ma-duich, “a good country town”; or Ball-ma-duth, “a good black town” from its being situated hard by a black moor.

Agriculture, Etc.
Agriculture is, as yet, in this parish, though a corn country, in state of infancy; excepting on the proprietor’s mains, and 1 farm, the rest all adhere to the old mode of culture. The heritors, who have all extensive mains, are improving them with great judgment and spirit, but being all young men, few or none of them have had sufficient time to complete their pleasure ground, or bring their mains to a proper state of cultivation, although they are making fast progress towards it.

From this I must except Mr. Mackenzie of Allangrange, who has brought his mains and the pleasure-ground of his place, to as high, of not higher perfection, than any man I know in this or the neighbouring counties; he has, for several years back, paid the closest attention to the improvement of his place, and now, while the traveller is delighted at seeing these improvements, he him self tastes the profits, and enjoys the comforts of them. This gentleman has, within my knowledge, recovered from 70 to 80 acres from a perfect morass, which is now completely drained, fenced, and yielding strong crops of hay and corn, and has thereby not only beautified his place, but considerably added to his rent-roll: for these lands, which only paid his father 3L. 6s. 8d. he could now set at from 15 to 20 shillings the acre; and he still continues to go on improving other parts of his estate with great assiduity and attention in the farming, shepherd, and planting way. At the place of Allangrange are to be seen several beech trees and poplars of a very large size, as also yew trees of an uncommon magnitude, and two solver firs, that greatly surpass in height and circumference any of the same kind in this country. The mode of farming is various according as the tenants choose, only those upon the estate of Allangrange are restricted, I am told, to a certain rotation; but I do not see that they hold by it, or if they do, I do not find that their circumstances are bettered by it. There are 118 ploughs in this parish, some of oxen, some of horses, and some a mixture of both; none but the gentlemen use 2 horse-ploughs. There is not a farmer in this parish, independent of heritors, who rents 70 acres, except Mr. Munro, factor to Kilcoy; he is the only one who has adopted the new mode and plan of farming, and manages his farm to great advantage. Lands in general let at from 12s. 6d. to 20s. the acre, and on one estate, I am told, they let higher. The causes that generally obstruct the improvement of agriculture here, in my opinion, are the poverty of the people, the smallness of the farms, the prejudices of the farmers in behalf of old established practices, and the short leases granted by heritors; all these co-operate to strengthen each other. And although the heritors improve their own mains with spirit, and are well inclined to give long leases, yet not one among the whole set of tenantry has followed their example, but Mr. Munro, whom I have already mentioned, and has his farm managed with great regularity and judgement.

The stock of his parish consists of black cattle, horses, a few sheep and hogs, and, after supplying the parish with grain, there are large quantities of meal and barley sold to such as are inclined to purchase. It is impossible to ascertain the number of acres under crop, as the estates of the several heritors have not been regularly surveyed, and I am sorry to say, that it is my opinion there are still in this parish two uncultivated acres for every one that is in culture. But in this calculation I include the planted grounds.

The people follow, in general, the occupation of husbandry. Although there is a sufficient number of tradesmen of various kinds, yet they hold some little ground, which they cultivate. The people, in general, are sober and industrious; they confine their whole attention to the working of their lands and their small crofts, and as there is no manufacture of any kind established in this parish, both men and women are equally dextrous at handling the spade, the muck-fork and shovel. The chief crops are oats, barley, pease, potatoes, a little wheat, and some rye; there is also a considerable quantity of clover and rye grass sown every year on the heritor’s mains, and answers extremely well, and a few of the tenants sow small spots of ground with the same. Potatoes are a great crop, as they make the principal food of the common farmers and the poor people, which with the herring that frequent this coast almost every autumn, and continue till the spring, make a good and wholesome diet. The herrings are the only fish caught in this coast, except a few salmon caught at State fishing, and some cuddies, of a very small size, in the summer months. These were so numerous this season as to be taken with nets, although the common way of fishing them is with a hook and bait. I cannot here omit mentioning an uncommon kind of fish called gobichs, that made its appearance in this coast about 3 years ago; they darted to the shore with the greatest violence, so that the people took them alive in large quantities. The body of this fish was long, and its head resembled that of a serpent’s; its weight never exceeded 3 or 4 ounces; many of them were found dead on the shore. The sowing of oats and pease commences here at February, barley and potatoes in April, so that the whole crop is sown on or before 12th of May. Harvest generally begins along the coast about 12th of August, and in general by the 12th of September.

Stipend, Poor
The kirk was built in 1764, and the manse in 1766; the latter was repaired in 1791, and both are now in a tolerable state of repair. The church holds for ordinary from 600 to 700 people. Captain McKenzie of Cromarty is patron. The stipend is 9 chalders and 1 bolls of barley, 3 chalders and 3 bolls oat-meal, and 98L. 9s. 8d. Scotch of money, of which there are 60L for communion elements. There is, besides, half the glebe of Kilmuir, and a glebe about the manse, of between 30 and 40 acres, which rented at the time of the annexation 7½ bolls, but by its being totally neglected since that time, was of little or no value at the accession of the present incumbent to the living, being mostly all covered over with heath. The number of poor on the roll of the parish is 35, too many for all the funds. However, there was triple this number until the heritors and session, in July 1792, saw the necessity of striking off a great many, or rather they struck off themselves, as the heritors and session would admit none, but such as would sign a bond (under certain limitations) to leave all they were possessed of at their death as a fund for the poor of the parish, the session obliging themselves to see such as signed this bond regularly supplied, as far as the funds would allow, and, in the end, have them decently buried. The Sunday collections amount to 6L. or 7L., a mortcloth brings in about 30s., a small mortification of 16s. 8d. from the lands of Bellmaduthy is all the poor have to depend upon. There is also a bond of 115L. due to the poor, but which, from some untoward circumstances, yielded no relief to them for several years back: however, there is still reason to hope that the principal sum may be recovered. Many of the poor beg from house to house, and it would be deemed impious to refuse alms, or a night’s quarters to any. A great many beggars swarm to this parish from other places, particularly from the Highlands, in the months of June, July and August.

Roads, Bridges, Plantations
The roads of this parish are kept in excellent repair, as are also the bridges: these have been hitherto done by statute-labour, the people have now an option of commuting it at 2s. the plough, or 18d. the man, or else passing through this parish; one from Kessock to Fortrose, Cromarty, Invergordon, Alnes and Fowles, for the space of 6 miles in each direction; and the road from Inverness to Dingwall, at the extremity of Allangrange’s property, close to Park-town of Redcastle. There is also a road from Kessock, leading along the shore from Redcastle, and the West Highlands.

There is no great deal of natural wood in this parish; that of any extent is upon the estate of Kilcoy, consisting of alder, and is kept with great care and attention. There are very large plantations of firs of various kinds, also, beech, oak. etc, on the estates of several of the heritors; but the most extensive, is that on the estate of Bellmaduthy, being above 300acres, all in a thriving condition, and many of them fit for market. By the time all these plantations come to perfection, or are fit for sale, there will be great abundance of wood for supplying the parishioners with timber and fuel, an article much wanted here, as the mosses in the parish are quite exhausted, and the inhabitants will be necessitated to purchase coals, which with the high duty, is far beyond the reach of the poorer, and middle class of people, and which, if not speedily withdrawn, will oblige the inhabitants to emigrate to other countries, where fire is to be had in greater abundance. Every poor man’s countenance here sparkled with joy, at being told of Mr. Secretary Dundas’s intention of bringing a bill this session into Parliament, to take the duty off coals coming to this country.

There are evident marks of a battle’s being fought in this parish. It is said to have been between the people of Inverness and the McDonalds, and to have happened in the 13th or14th century. The plain on which this battle was fought, is to this day called Blair-na-coi; a name given it from this particular circumstance, that as one of the contending parties was giving way and flying, a tenant and his son who were ploughing on that field, had taken off the yokes with which the oxen were fastened together, rallied the routed troops, and with them recommenced the action and carried the day.*

It would appear the battle was bloody, and desperately fought, from the vast number of cairns of stones that are still to be seen there, covering the dead. These the people still hold so sacred, that though the place was in tillage when the battle was fought, the marks of the ridges being still visible there, and though a great deal of the adjoining moor is now cultivated, not one of there cairns has been ever touched. Another circumstance the strengthens the opinion is, that the heights and adjacent places go by the name of Druim-na-deor, “the height or the Hill of Tears”. To the E. of where the battle was fought, are to seen the remains of a Druidical temple, called James’s Temple, and to the W. of the field of battle, are to be seen the traces of a camp, and a similar one to it to the S. on the hill of Kessock, the highest hill in this parish, where there is also a pretty large cairn of stones, called Cairn-glas. This hill, which goes by the name of Ord-hill, belongs to Mr. Grant of Redcastle, who has already begin to plant it with firs and other forest trees, and which, when finished, will be an ornament to this and the neighbouring counties, as it lies on the coast opposite to Inverness, and is to be seen as far down as from the town of Elgin.

*I could get no such traditional account of this battle, as could induce me to commit any thing more about it to paper. One circumstance worth of remark is that a very honest and respectable family of farmers date their introduction to this parish from that period; and what is still more extraordinary, amidst the various changes and revolutions of time and proprietors, they have continued in the same possession, and on the self-same Larach, and their antiquity is such as to become a proverb, so that when people speak of a very remote circumstance, it is a common saying among them, “It is as old as the Lobans of Drumderfit.”

There are no less than 3 schools in this parish; a parochial school with a salary of 200 merks; a stated school and dwelling-house, and a kail-yard, attended by 50 or 60 children; a society school with a salary of 16L., attended by from 35 to 45 children; and a Sunday-school established here by Charles Grant, Esq., where 100 or more poor people are taught to read Gaelic and English, and all who attend this school are not only taught but supplied with books at Mr. Grant’s sole expense. It is proposed this season to cause the teacher of the Sunday-school open a weekly school in a remote but populous corner of the parish, so as to render this instituition more beneficial to the parishioners.

There are all sorts of common fowls, such as hens, turkeys, geese, ducks, etc. reared in this parish, and it abounds with such other birds as are peculiar to this climate and country. The cuckoo makes his appearance at the end of April, and the swallow in the beginning of May. The lapwing or green plover in March, and the wood-cock in October. There are a few moorfowl, and a black-cock has been seen in the fir plantations of Allangrange frequently this season. The ground abounds with many partridges. Immense numbers of sea-fowls frequent this shore, especially in the fishing season, and the flocks of ducks of various kinds that frequent the bay of Munlochy are almost incredible, for they sometimes cover the bay from side to side for 2 miles, and it is astonishing what it is they get there to support them, as the herring never enter it. Rude geese and swans sometimes come there in the winter and spring, especially when the frost is intense. There are a few singing birds also in the parish, such as the thrush, blackbird, linnets, goldfinches in great abundance, the bullfinch, which, I am told, has made his appearance in this country about 20 years ago, and a great plenty of larks.

United Parishes of Kilmuir Wester and Suddy continue reading

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